Emojis: The African app company that trumped Apple to launch first black emoticons

Every week, African Start-Up follows entrepreneurs in various countries across the continent to see how they are working to make their business dreams become reality.

(CNN) — As in most aspects of life, timing in business is essential.

About one month ago, following complaints by celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Tahj Mowry over a lack a racial diversity in Apple’s emojis (the cartoon-like icons used to spruce up text messages), a company executive told MTV that the tech giant was working to update its set of characters.

The news quickly had Twitter buzzing as people joined the #EmojiEthnicityUpdate discussions — but that wasn’t the end of the story.

Without wasting any time, a Mauritius-based app company called Oju Africa announced a few hours later that it had already tackled the lack of racial diversity by introducing its own set of Afro emoticons on Google Play Store.

The company said it had been working on the icons since late 2012 and was planning to officially launch them on April 10. Yet, the social media hype after Apple’s response prompted them to speed up their release date — trumping market-leading companies in the process. Read more

Africa: Women and Mobile Technology

On Friday April 4, the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) held its 2014 Global Women in Leadership Conference, which, this year, examined the ways in which technology is providing new opportunities for women. The conference, entitled “Technology in Action: Changing the Way Women Live and Work,” also focused on how women are taking advantage of the fact that technology is not only improving service delivery, but playing a major part in advancing their empowerment.

“Women’s progress is human progress”

In her keynote address at the conference, Kathy Calvin, CEO and president of the United Nations Foundation, stated that, while the modern world is getting smaller, opportunities are getting bigger. She emphasized that technology is a specific tool that provides opportunities to women. Technology has paved the way for greater democratization and has revolutionized services, from banking and finance to education and health. We are also witnessing a power shift leading to ordinary citizens now proposing solutions: Bottom-up change is happening more than ever.  Technology is the solution that will continue to empower girls and women and, for that reason, is vital to the future. For, as Calvin emphasized, women’s progress is human progress.

Dr. E. William Colglazier, science and technology adviser to the U.S. secretary of state, continued along this line of thought, stating that individual empowerment will accelerate owing to poverty reduction, global middle class growth, greater educational attainment, widespread use of new communications and manufacturing technologies, and health care advances.

While transformative technology is not limited to information and communication technologies (ICTs)—it also includes developments such as cleaner stoves or solar power systems—the discussion at this event largely focused on mobile technologies.  Mobile phones and tools have become popular in Africa. For example, M-Pesa, a mobile platform that has revolutionized access to banking in rural areas, is often quoted as a success story. Panelists at the event also cited initiatives like MAMA (which provides important information through text and voice messages to pregnant women), and M-Farm (which informs rural farmers of market prices for their crops, alerts them of good prices for inputs, and connects them to buyers), as important innovations for women. Read more

Mobile Tech- Africa’s Tech Edge

How the continent’s many obstacles, from widespread poverty to failed states, allowed African entrepreneurs to beat the West at reinventing money for the mobile age

Mobile money exploded in Africa because the continent’s cash economy was ripe for disruption. Even as the number of city dwellers wishing to send money to rural relatives surged, the prevailing technology was still pressing an envelope of cash into the hands of a bus driver or trusted friend heading home. Some paranoiacs would wedge a parcel above the wheel of a bus, sending the intended recipient instructions for how to retrieve it many dusty miles later. Read more

Personal Touch Signature better securty for Mobile Devices

New system provides security by monitoring how user touches the screen

Passwords, gestures and fingerprint scans are all helpful ways to keep a thief from unlocking and using a cell phone or tablet. Cybersecurity researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology have gone a step further. They’ve developed a new security system that continuously monitors how a user taps and swipes a mobile device. If the movements don’t match the owner’s tendencies, the system recognizes the differences and can be programmed to lock the device.

Polo Chau

Click image to enlarge

Polo Chau is an assistant professor in the School of Computational Science and Engineering

The new system is called LatentGesture and was used during a Georgia Tech lab study using Android devices. The system was nearly 98 percent accurate on a smartphone and 97 percent correct on tablets. The research team will present the findings for the first time at the end of April.

“The system learns a person’s ‘touch signature,’ then constantly compares it to how the current user is interacting with the device,” said Polo Chau, a Georgia Tech College of Computing assistant professor who led the study.

To test the system, Chau and his team set up an electronic form with a list of tasks for 20 participants. They were asked to tap buttons, check boxes and swipe slider bars on a phone and tablet to fill out the form. The system tracked their tendencies and created a profile for each person.

After profiles were stored, the researchers designated one person’s signature as the “owner” of the device and repeated the tests. LatentGesture successfully matched the owner and flagged everyone else as unauthorized users.

“Just like your fingerprint, everyone is unique when they use a touchscreen,” said Chau. “Some people slide the bar with one quick swipe. Others gradually move it across the screen. Everyone taps the screen with different pressures while checking boxes.”

The research team also programmed the system to store five touch signatures on the same device – one “owner” and four authorized users. When someone other than the owner used the tablet, the system identified each with 98 percent accuracy.

“This feature could be used when a child uses her dad’s tablet,” said College of Computing sophomore Premkumar Saravanan. “The system would recognize her touch signature and allow her to use the device. But if she tried to buy an app, the system could prevent it.”

The researchers say LatentGesture’s biggest advantage is that the system is constantly running in the background. The user doesn’t have to do anything different for added security and authentication.

“It’s pretty easy for someone to look over your shoulder while you’re unlocking your phone and see your password,” said Samuel Clarke, another College of Computing student on the research team. “This system ensures security even if someone takes your phone or tablet and starts using it.”

Chau is co-advising the project with Hongyuan Zha, a professor in the School of Computational Science and Engineering. The study will be presented in Toronto at ACM Chinese CHI 2014 from April 26 to 27.

This research was partially supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under grants IIS-1049694 and IIS-1116886. Any conclusions expressed are those of the principal investigator and may not necessarily represent the official views of the NSF.